Installation at the Lethargy Festival at Rote Fabrik
I'm here to visit the Alte Börse, a new club in Zürich. Located on the fifth floor, the main room spans an area of five hundred square meters. Were it not for the clouds darkening the evening sky, I could probably behold the daylight beaming through the delicately windowed ceiling. A listed trader's ring will serve as the bar. But, for now, the interior is in a state of busy renovation: Carpenters nail boards to the floor, workers swarm around, machines rattle frenetically through the space.
Soundwise, the hall promises to provide the future club with anything but the industrial cacophony it currently is undergoing. To ensure optimal acoustic absorption, the walls are covered with thousands of metal panels containing tiny holes. Large cavities and huge pads were constructed with the same goal. Everything in the hall, in fact, seems to be in the service of pitch-perfect acoustics. Which is the way it's been for years: During the '70s, millions of Swiss Francs were invested to ensure that the sound would be crystal clear among the traders. After all, intelligible shouting was key to their business.
"When the acoustician made his tests, it dawned on us we had struck gold as far as the acoustic setting goes." says Billy Bildstein, who is in charge of the musical programming of the future club. Together with Daniele Bürgisser, Bildstein is responsible for one of the most successful club nights in Zürich: Cityfox. Starting off as an underground event in a warehouse two-and-a-half years ago, the event quickly rose to become the toast of the Zürich dance scene. Now, the Cityfox crew is embarking on their club adventure Alte Börse. It aims at nothing less than becoming an international club fixture with regular nights by Perlon, Dial and the My My crew—not to mention their own Cityfox nights.
Zürich's dance music history always seems to begin with Yello. But another story might take Oliver Stumm as its leading man. The producer of mid-'90s house hits like "Nobody's Business," Stumm confirmed his place at the forefront of the disco electro movement with the millennial hit "A Touch of Class." He was one of the first Swiss DJs to fall for the jacking beats from Chicago, spinning records by Marshall Jefferson and JM Silk at parties in the late '80s. Stumm recalls one such illegally organized event, "The thing was, we only had like five records and played them all night long. Some people would complain about this bush music. I would tell these guys, 'Where do you want to go…there is no place else."
Party and club locations were scarce. It was a time when the city was still under the spell of the Protestant work ethic. But it didn't take long for techno and house to take hold of the town. The rave era of the early '90s culminated in the massive Street Parade, which has attracted millions and millions of visitors since it began in 1992. At the same time, an alternative yet fragmented underground scene has blossomed in the shadow of these grand scale events.
Zurich's famed Street Parade isn't all the city has to offer
A quick guide to Zürich
A good time to go to clubs in Zürich is around 1 AM, door policies are usually pretty tolerant. You could walk over to club Zukunft (Dienerstrasse 33) and dance the night away in their stylishly decorated confines. Or perhaps the strong international line-up at Club Hive (Geroldstrasse 5) is more to your liking? If you want to queue up for the Alte Börse (Bleicherweg 5), head back to the centre of town.
Records & DJ gear
From the main station in the city, it's a mere five minutes walk to the P45 (Klingenstrasse 9). It's the best record shop for DJs with a taste for quality house, (dub)techno and dubstep. Just around the corner is Jackpoint (Konradstrasse 75), an outlet that provides essential studio and DJ gear.
Longstreet Bar (Langstrasse 92) is worth the visit simply for its dazzling ceiling. Go to Dani H. (Müllerstrasse 51) if the beats cannot come too early for you.
New Point (Kasernenstrasse 77) is a good fast food takeout, try the spicy lamb pepito. Or grab some tapas at Für Dich (Stauffacherstrasse 141).
Authentic local fare
Try the Alpenrose (Fabrikstrasse 12), but make sure you get a reservation first.
Casablanca (Langstrasse 62) or Gloria (Josefstrasse 59) are ideal places to seize the day.
Zürich with a View
The Bürkliplatz near the lake combines a great view with a whiff of fresh air. Or take the bus to Waidspital to get a panoramic vista of the city.
Book a room at Dakinis Bed & Breakfast (Brauerstrasse 87). Personal atmosphere and wireless internet included. Or get a room at easyHotel (Zwinglistrasse 14).
Kalabrese's signature track "Auf dem Hof" (At the farmyard) is an homage to the wild days of the Dachkantine. "It was funny," he tells me. "The whole party scene there reminded me of a farmyard with everyone just running around like chickens." But while the party was most definitely the point, important connections were made as well. It was here that the Cityfox guys got the club virus and people like Alex Dallas from Drumpoet Community laid the groundwork for their labels at the venue as well: "We used to organise a regular night called Loud Minority at the Dachkantine. It became the founding stone of our label." It's a safe guess—and not merely nostalgic—that the club served as a cultural catalyst: It united different sub groups in a disjointed club scene and reduced prejudices between the minimal techno heads and the more disco and house-oriented posse.
If the legacy of the Dachkantine will live on in the Alte Börse, it certainly already has had an impact on Zukunft. A safe haven for the seasoned clubber, the venue is located in the middle of Zürich's red-light district. Known primarily as a hub for the local deep house scene, the club nonetheless offers a variety of acts, with the likes of Cristian Vogel, Derrick May or Andrew Weatherall performing any given weekend. Stuttgart producer Michel Baumann AKA Jackmate explains it thusly, "People in Zürich don't have rigid expectations. And that's a good thing. You get the chance to experiment more." Zürich hasn't developed any purist tendencies, the scene is simply too small. Even though some observers have made out a deep-house boom in Zürich, it remains a minor phenomenon. The city is far from having a so-called trademark city sound, as exemplified in Berlin at places like Bar25 or Berghain.
Zürich producers and labels have nonetheless stepped up their output in recent years. One reason for this may be the fact that the city's policy regarding drugs has changed the face of the club scene over the past few years, forcing after-hour clubs like the infamous Spyder Galaxy to close its doors. "The scene retreated and found more time for the creative side of things. Which resulted in a recent slate of quality productions." says Gianmarcho Marchetta from Zürich techno label Motoguzzi Records.
While labels like Trackdown, Bruchstücke and Stattmusik laid the groundwork over the previous decade, these days the rumbling live house of Kalabrese, the releases of Drumpoet Community and the anthemic Mountain People productions are in high demand. Other imprints like GS Zürich and Motoguzzi are providing quality stuff in a minimal to techno-oriented fashion, while the dancefloor trips by Samim and Michal Ho have long found their audience.
The Cityfox duo are starting their own label as well. But unlike many imprints in Zürich, it will not primarily feature acts from around the city. The first few releases are by Lee Curtiss, Gregorythme and My My. "Why not release international acts? We also target an international community with our club." says Billy Bildstein in the cramped provisional office back at the former stock exchange.
Needless to say, the man hasn't missed the irony of his new digs. Namely that a party conceived in freewheeling underground surroundings has taken over a building in the midst of Zürich's financial district. A contradiction? "We have no problem to touch base with the area around here. It's an enriching experience." Point taken. And maybe this is simply not a collision of different spheres. Maybe it's a conjunction. Maybe it's just Zürich.
Top photo and Zürich parade photo credit: Beat Küng
Lethargy photo credit: Regula Bearth
Sidebar photo credit: Belpo